After a year’s worth of tiny little tips, tricks and tweaks towards a slightly less tangled, more minimal life at work and play, it is time to take stock. For the last few days, I’ve been thinking of the best three or four or five ideas discussed in this column that I have found most useful through the 12 months that have now all but passed. Which apps helped me most? Which lifehacks? What little changes or modifications to my daily routine?

After much thought, I’ve narrowed it down to three things. Each one is simultaneously an app, an aspect of daily routine, and a behavioural modification of sorts. Each one radically improved my life throughout 2017. I stress on this multifaceted—app, idea, method—aspect of each one because you don’t necessarily have to use the particular apps to achieve the untanglement I did. In fact, you don’t really have to use an app at all. But they help. And help is good. And we all need as much help as we can get.

So what are the three most useful apps that made my life better in 2017?

Freedom

For some reason, there appears to be a culture of shame and embarrassment associated with admitting that one has a social-media-addiction problem. Worse, there is greater stigma in admitting that you could need some help in getting over it. What? You can’t just NOT tweet? Snowflake.

I used to have a serious Twitter problem. Of course, all along I knew that scrolling through a timeline, careening from outrage to outrage, was utterly unproductive. I could spend time far more rewardingly actually reading a book, playing a game on my Nintendo 3DS, or actually doing stuff that needed doing. And then I discovered an app called Freedom. Freedom is a simple little app that enables you to block distracting websites on your Apple devices for pre-set windows of time. Thus, each morning I have Freedom kick in on my mobile phone from 9am-9pm. No Twitter during that window. Whatsoever. Freedom blocks all access. On my desktop, I am slightly less draconian. The window doesn’t kick in automatically, but I usually activate 5- or 6-hour block sessions shortly after breakfast.

Of course, there are ways and means to get around this, if you are so technologically inclined. But there is also an element of self-signalling in this. Freedom saves me several hours each day that I put to better use than wallowing in passive outrage. I love Twitter, of course. Great fun. In small doses.

Workflowy

I’ve always loved list-making apps. Lists, as we have discussed before, are superb ways of keeping track of ideas, noting down tasks, and keeping track of them. The problem was finding an app that met all my requirements: cross-platform, simple, fast, with very low friction when it came to input and output. And there are so many of these apps. But none of them was satisfying…until I discovered Workflowy.

Workflowy does all the things I want, but one more thing that has now turned it into a daily Swiss knife of information management for me. And that thing is zooming into a bullet point so that the rest of your lists vanish, leaving you only with one bullet and all its children bullets to deal with. Many people struggle to see the point of this feature. Until they see it in action. Workflowy is really quite excellent. While I still haven’t attained zen-level mastery with instantly recording ideas and tasks, and thereby leaving my brain free to do instead of remember, this should be just a matter of time with Workflowy.

Headspace

Meditation was that other thing I just couldn’t get my head, ha, around. And I’ve been trying for years. Most recently, I had rather warmed up to Buddhify, a popular app for mobile phones. I particularly found Buddhify useful for some moments of calm in bed, or during long, stressful journeys. This year, however, I discovered Headspace.

Not only has the app helped me build meditation into my daily schedule, it has helped improve me physically. The app made me realize how much stress I carry in my shoulders, neck, jaw and head. Slowly, I am learning to let my muscles go, and stay in that state of relaxation for as long as I can. This is hard. At the merest hint of stress, my shoulders scrunch up and a stress headache begins to radiate from the back of my head. But Headspace is always there on my phone to help.

Perhaps you will find your own app or approach to manage lists, meditation and focused work. And that will make 2018 an awesome year. All the best

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